Allotment Journal: Weekly update

The past week or so has been spent getting the plots ready for the winter. There’s been a lot of weeding, strimming, clearing and compost turning. It’s all a bit messy but it’s been rather rewarding. I’ve also been gathering seeds, runner beans, french beans, garlic chives at the allotment and cinnamon basil at home, thrilled about the basil seeds.

The phacelia, green manure, that I sowed at the beginning of October has germinated and is starting to get frondy. It’s about two weeks old here. It should form an excellent ground cover within the next few of weeks.

 

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Whilst we’ve endured some rather heavy rainfall, the air temperature has started to rise again.  The temperatures  in October have so far been around 4 degrees celsius higher than average for this time of year. It’s confusing some of the plants…

The rose is blooming and bees are busily collecting pollen..

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And even the sickly pear tree has tried to blossom again

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And the grass and the weeds just continue to grow and spring up at quite a pace. This has created quite a lot of composting material, so I decided to take a look at out composts heaps, which I have sadly neglected. They were all a little dry and non active. So I decided to reconstruct them, layering green matter (nitrogen) and brown matter (carbon) in an attempt to create some amazing compost. I’m going to write an in depth piece about composting shortly. I find it a fascinating science and have become slightly obsessed with it.

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Whilst weeding the orchard plot I noticed something rather disturbing on the Victoria rhubarb. I found large blobs of a jelly like substance on a stalk and also on the ground beside the plant. My immediate thought, is this some form new pest of disease? It usually is! ever the optimist!

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I did a little research and apparently these jellified blobs occur when sap seeps from the stalks. In order for sap to seep from the plant, the plant must have sustained some form of damage, either from the wind or maybe a pest…. I’m hoping it’s not the latter! I will have to investigate further. Looking at this photo, the top left hand side of the stalk looks as if it’s been nibbled!

We dug up the first Bulgarian Giant leek.

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These leeks are long and thin, this one isn’t fully grown but I was longing to try them. This one measured around 90cm, but after cutting away the top leaves we were still left with whopping 70cm of edible leek. This is the equivalent of at least two standard variety leeks, or three smaller ones. They also taste great, they are fairly mild, but good and leekie! This has been a rare experimental success and we will definitely grow this variety again next year… in much larger numbers, we’re only growing about 10 plants this year.

And finally… lemongrass

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Peter and his wife, on plot 6,  have been growing some rather exotic vegetables and herbs on their plot, one of which is lemongrass. Each time I walk to the orchard plot I pass plot 6 and admire the lemongrass. Lemongrass enjoys warm temperatures so now that autumn has arrived Peter has been digging it up to protect it from the colder weather.

I was passing by the other day and Peter called me over. He handed me a clump of his lemongrass,  I was over the moon.  I popped it into a carrier bag to transport it home. He said that it needs to grow, it’s still quite young, so once home, I potted it up and have placed it in a sheltered spot on my balcony.

A gardener friend of mine, Tony says it grows big… so I looked it up. Yikes it does, it grows 6 foot tall. I suspect I will need to repot it in the not too distant future! It’s a nitrogen hungry plant so it should be fed every two weeks with a nitrogen rich feed. I will bring the plant inside the house during the winter, although this will slow growth rates down.

Peter said that home grown lemongrass tastes much superior to the shop bought lemongrass. I can’t wait to try it… I wish I was more patient!

 

Posted in Allotment Journal, Green manure, Leeks, Rhubarb

Weekly Journal: Weekly update

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The unseasonably gloriously warm sunny weather sadly came to an end this week, and there has been a dramatic change in the weather pattern. Temperatures plummeted, literally overnight, falling from the mid 20’s down to a chilly 16 degrees celsius. Rain has also arrived, in bucket loads! Gardening in cold wet weather has never really appealed to me, one has to ask the question why?! So my visits to the allotment will most probably become less frequent over the coming months, just popping along when there’s a spell of dry weather.

Fortunately there’s not a lot to do at the allotment. The only crops that we have left growing include leeks, parsnips, kale and also the french bean and runner bean wig-wams. The beans are well and truly over but I’m slightly obsessed with saving seed, so I’ve left the overgrown bean pods to dry out and then I’l harvest the seed. The leeks, kale and parsnips will all over winter well.  In fact they will all benefit from a period of cold weather,  it will help improve their flavour.

On my last visit I had an overwhelming desire to dig up a parsnip.  During each visit I look at them longing to know what is happening underground. It’s far to early to start harvesting as there hasn’t been a frost yet, they will probably taste bitter, but I’m rather impatient. Parsnips need a good spell of cold weather before harvesting. Colder temperatures activate enzymes that causes starch to convert into sugars, making the vegetable taste much sweeter.

I sowed the parsnip seeds way back in mid April. I used a method that I found in a gardening magazine. They suggested creating a hole, with a dibber, and filling the hole with a mixture of compost and grit. I placed 3 to 5 parsnip seeds in each hole and covered with more of the  composty/gritty mixture.

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The seeds were terribly slow to germinate, it took over a month. Germination rates were extremely poor too.  I sowed more seeds towards the end of May and this time germination was reasonably quick. Increased soil temperatures had obviously improved the germination rate.

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Over the next few months the parsnips continued to grow at quite a pace, producing an enormous amount of foliage.

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However, it wasn’t all be plain sailing, there have been a few obstacles along the way. Aphids, slugs and snails and on my last visit and new problem. I discovered that a large amount of the foliage had formed brown, thin papery patches.

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I was talking to my allotment neighbour Darrin, and a similar thing had happened to him last year.  He said have a look underneath the leaf and it suddenly became apparent what was causing the damage.

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Lots of tiny caterpillars, they were no more than a centimetre long.

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Despite being small, they certainly demonstrated a voracious appetite, stripping leaves at quite a rate.

I had to do a little research when I got home; neither Darrin nor I had any idea what type of caterpillar this was. After surfing the internet for some considerable time, trust me there’s not a lot about this, I came to the conclusion it’s most likely to be a parsnip moth caterpillar. Rather odd because they usually feed on wild parsnips.

Anyway, without knowing what it was at the time, I took drastic steps and I pruned the parsnips, removing all the infected foliage.

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I was left with something that resembled a rather bad haircut!  So unsightly but I hope it pays off. We’ll see on our next visit…

Anyway I dug up a parsnip and this is what it looked like

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Not perfect in any way, but not quite as bad as I had feared. The main root is fairly straight, but there is clearly some forking, creating a ‘parsnip man’ with two arms and few extra hairy roots. The forking probably resulted from the soil not being fine enough. If the root hits an obstacle it tends to grow around it. Now we need to wait for that all important frost to arrive before we dig up any more.

On the orchard plot, the fruit trees are beginning to shed their leaves. The large pear tree has suffered from scab this year so it’s important that we rake up all the scabby sooty diseased pear leaves from the ground. This is to try and prevent the pear scab spores from infecting the pear tree again next year. These leaves will be destroyed.

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And finally, it’s almost time to start planting garlic bulbs. This year we intend to mainly grow a softneck variety called Early Purple White. We’ve had the most success with this particular variety over the past couple of years. It produces good sized, delicious tasting, bulbs that store really well.

 

 

Posted in Allotment Journal, Parsnips

Phacelia Tanacetifolia – A.k.a. Green manure

 

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As crops are harvested into late summer, early Autumn we are generally left with a number of empty vegetable beds over the winter months. It’s really important not to leave soil exposed as this can lead to soil erosion and the leaching of vital nutrients. Additionally, those pesky weeds are likely to emerge and rampage over the empty vegetable beds during the autumn and winter months, again removing much needed nutrition from the soil.

There are a number of ways exposed soil can be protected from weeds and the elements.

Cover the bare soil with some form of mulch. Mulch is basically anything that covers exposed ground, which may include cardboard, straw, wood bark, grass clippings, etc. We tend to use a heavy duty fabric membrane that we buy from the garden centre. However, this is an expensive option and we’ve found the strong coastal winds tend to whip up across the allotment during the winter months causing the membrane to be ripped from the pegs that secure it. Last year we had to resort to securing it with planks of wood, bags of compost and full watering cans,  just to prevent the membrane from taking off!

Using mulch is fairly effective. It keeps the ground weed free, although saying that, let me remind you about the bindweed roots that we found under some carpet when we took over the orchard plot!

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Note: Never dig mulch into the ground. Organic matter is essential for fertile, productive, healthy soil. All organic matter takes time to breakdown, and all organic matter is broken down by micro-organisms. Fully decomposed organic matter is known as humus, it’s black and crumbly. It’s not possible for humus to decompose further. Humus stores the soils nutrients, moisture and helps improve the soils structure and drainage. Mulch on the other hand is organic matter that hasn’t decomposed. It is yet to go through that process. Therefore it has little to no benefit to plants if dug into the soil. The decaying organic matter may actually hamper vegetable growth rates as the busy micro-organisims use nitrogen and phosphorus and other nutrients, also required for the successful growth of vegetables.

Another option is to sow green manure. Green manure is essentially a fast growing plant used to cover bare soil. It helps improve the health of the soil. The foliage covers exposed soil helping to suppress weeds, and the plants root system helps prevent soil erosion.

There are a whole host of plants that can be used as green manure, and one should be mindful of the cultivar before sowing. For example, there are a number of plants such as, Alfalfa (Medicago sativa), Alsike clover (Trifolium hybridum), Bitter Blue lupin (Lupinus angustifolius), Crimson clover (Trifolium incarnatum), Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum), Trefoil (Medicago lupulina) and Winter field bean (Vicia faba) that all belong to the to the legume culivar. These plants are nitrogen fixers and this should be noted when considering crop rotation. 

Mustard (Sinapis alba) is part of the brassica cultivar; to avoid club root, this too should be considered when planning crop rotation. 

This is all rather complicated for my simple mind, so to keep things easy, especially with crop rotation in mind, we always tend to opt for a green manure that is neutral and that will not impact crop rotation.

We sow Phacelia (Phacelia tanacetifolia). 

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Ultimately, we are looking for a green manure that helps suppress weeds and prevents soil erosion, phacelia ticks both boxes. It also has the added bonus of helping improve soil structure.

Phacelia, otherwise known as purple tansy, belongs to the Boraginaceae family. Other members of this family include, borage, comfrey, forget-me-not and heliotrope. 

Germination is aided by cooler temperatures and darkness. Sowing is recommended between, March to June or August through to October. Cast the seed at roughly 1 gram of seed per square metre and cover with roughly 1cm of soil. It likes most soil types providing there is reasonable drainage.

Sowing phacelia.

Prepare the soil by clearing as many weeds as you can

Water the soil

Cast the seed

Then either rake or as I do, gently fork over.

Water again.

 

The seeds take anywhere from 12 to 30 days to germinate. The ground should be kept damp throughout this period. The plants should be fully grown within 3 months.

Phacelia has a dense fern like foliage, perfect for suppressing weeds. Providing it’s not too cold, it should overwinter well.

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In the spring, cut down the foliage before it flowers and dig into the soil. The advantage of this is that all the nutrients absorbed from the soil will be released back into the ground, plus the broken down matter will help improve the soil structure. Once dug into the soil, allow at least two weeks before planting or sowing seeds to enable the plant structure to break down sufficiently.

If allowed to flower, this plant will not only look spectacular, but it will hum with the activity of busy bees.

 

 

Posted in Green manure

Allotment Journal: Weekly Update

September is one of those months! It has mixed emotions for me; it’s an in-between month… there’s the excitement of harvesting this years labours and maintaining the crops that will overwinter. But once that’s done, there’s also the slight heavy heartedness that the season is coming to a close.

This year we’ve enjoyed an amazing summer of warmth and sunshine and the weather just keeps giving. It doesn’t seem like September at all, temperatures have been above average and there’s been very little rainfall, it’s possible this could be driest September since records began. But what does remind us that it’s September is all the old dried out, tired looking, decaying plants that are no longer producing vegetables and the empty beds that need to be prepared for winter.

So we’ve started the the big autumn clear up. We’ve picked all the cobs of sweetcorn and they are now stashed in my freezer. The cobs that were left on the plants into mid September were either underdeveloped due to poor pollination or they became over ripe and turned horribly starchy. Only one place for them, the compost heap.

 

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So time to remove the corn field…

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I’m not sure who’s idea it was to grow so many plants.. but it look ages to clear the plot.. the plants had developed the most incredible root systems that took some digging out…

 

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But after an hour or so this tall grassy landmark was finally gone… we sowed a green manure, Phacelia, on this empty bed so we don’t leave it exposed over the winter months.

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Despite enjoying warm daytime temperatures, we made the decision to remove all the remaining borlotti bean pods. Our main concern was the drop in night time temperatures. A frost could easily damage the crop.

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So all the pods were harvested. We had a huge bag full that I spread out on my kitchen table at home and there they were left to dry.

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Two weeks later they were ready to pod and store in airtight jars.

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Berlotti beans are not known for their abundant production, each pod contains approximately 6 or 7 beans. In terms of quantity produced, we averaged a jar of beans per wig-wam (we grew anywhere between 7 to 10 borlotti plants per wig-wam, difficult to tell exactly as some young plants were devoured by slugs and snails along the way), each jar of beans weighs just over 400g. So we produced a total of 1.25kg of beans. Not bad all things considered but one could always have more…. So next year I think we need to triple production, 9 wig-wams. This should provide a decent crop to see both of us through the winter and to have some spare to share with fellow allotmenteers and friends.

I think it’s safe to say the globe artichoke season is over

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Huge dead flower heads on the end of long dried out stalks. I cut these all away, leaving the most amazing new growth of foliage

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Globe artichokes are perennials. This plant is now three years old so we will look to start dividing up this plant next spring to help retain the plants vigour.

We dug up the first of the leeks. These are Barry Leeks, leeks.

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I hate to admit it, but we do seem to have slightly more white by using Barry’s trench sowing/growing method!!

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Although, maybe we should wait until I start digging up the experimental Bulgarian Giant Leeks… thinking that they may produce much more white….. they are certainly quite tall… and growing! Each visit there’s always more earthing up to do!!

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And finally, you know how much I love poppies. Well, this week I travelled to London to see the ceramic poppies at the Tower of London. It’s an incredible, unique art installation called Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red.. It marks the 100 year anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War. 888,246 hand crafted ceramic poppies have been made and throughout the summer months these poppies have been progressively placed in the moat of the Tower of London. Each poppy represents the lost life of a British soldier during the First World War. It’s incredibly moving to see. If you are in London, it’s a MUST SEE. The closest tube station is Tower Hill, on the Circle line (yellow) or District line (green), it’s a short walk to the Tower from here.

The Tower of London in the heart of the City of London, actually very close to where I used to work, so fairly nostalgic for me.

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The Flint Tower was used for the recruitment, deployment and training of soldiers during the First World War.

Around the perimeter of the Tower there is a beautiful border of poppies.

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And then this stunning cascade of poppies a bit further on.

 

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But within the moat itself, well, that’s where this display is truly breathtaking.. it literally is a sea of red.

 

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This installation ends on November 11th, 2014, so make sure you go before then if you wish to see this magnificent sight for yourself.

 

Posted in Allotment Journal

Allotment Journal: Weekly update

After a few weeks of summer rain the sunshine has finally returned. However, the mornings and evenings are becoming much, much cooler and daylight hours are dwindling, meaning this years growing season is starting to come an end.  Saying that, we still have a number of crops on the go. These include

The Borlotti beans..

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Although they’re looking rather tragic (the wig-wams are crudely propped up with bamboo canes and the foliage is beginning to die back), lovely plump beans have formed inside the brightly coloured pods. We plan to let these exquisite beans dry naturally on the plant so they can be stored for winter use. Ideally the pod should shrivel and turn an unsightly shade of pale beige! At this stage the pod is ready to harvest.

However, if there’s the risk of frost, all pods should be harvested immediately, shrivelled or not… simply pick and dry out at home.  I’m going to keep a close eye on the weather. Me and these beans have already been through quite a lot, and I don’t want to lose this crop at the final hurdle. Currently we are enjoying a spell of warm sunny weather, but as we all know, the English weather has a tendency to suddenly turn.

Pears….

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This variety of pear is Doyenne du Comice and is typically ready to harvest at the end of September. However, this summer because we have enjoyed a long spell of warm weather, enabling harvesting to be brought forward by a couple of weeks.

This dwarf pear tree has produced an outstanding crop of large pears. We are so pleased because last year we didn’t harvest a single pear, they all dropped from the tree during the ‘June drop’.  One branch is so heavily laden with fruit it’s touching the ground. So I decided to pick a few pears to ripen at home. I’ll leave the rest to ripen naturally.

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On plot one, there is a blackthorn tree growing in the hedgerow on the perimeter of the site. It’s large and its branches overhang our plot. We have chosen to leave these overhanging branches for two reasons. Firstly, it provides a much needed canopy that shades us from the scorching summer sun and it also provides cover when it rains. And secondly, it produces the most incredible bitter blue-black fruit, the sloe berry.

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These berries are usually ready to pick in the autumn after the first frosts but they have come early this year. A combination of warm weather followed by a huge douching of rain has led to a bumper crop, that’s ready now. Below are the berries I picked this week. They’ve gone straight into the freezer until we’re ready to use them.

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These berries aren’t typically eaten in pies or puddings because they are so astringent but they are used to make the most delicious liqueurs, such as sloe gin or sloe vodka, or as I did last year, sloe jelly, which was served at the Christmas lunch.

To make the liqueur, prick the fruit, add some sugar and pour over gin or vodka. Store in a dark cool place, gently shake the bottle or container daily for about two months, or longer. This is a true winter warmer, ideally placed in a hip flask and sipped whilst out on a lovely crisp, dry winters day walk. Heavenly!

Leeks…

We do a love a leek, so this year we are growing loads and we’re trying a number of different varieties, some of which will overwinter.

I have no idea what the variety of leek is below. They were kindly given to us by a fellow allotmenteer called Barry, we fondly call him ‘Barry Leeks’. We planted these leeks in mid-June under firm instructions from Barry to dig a trough….

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So a trough was dug…… Barry and I have a very different methods for growing leeks, and I have to say I won’t be digging trenches again. I found the trench aesthetically WRONG! Sorry Barry. And I’m not sure it’s going to produce a different product.

Anyway, fast forward three months and this is what they look like now! They are ready to dig up and eat as and when we need them.

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On plot two we planted our Bleu de Solaise and I snuck in a row of experimental Bulgarian Giant leeks.

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The Bulgarian giant leeks are tender so they won’t over winter terribly well, so we will dig those up in the autumn. However, the Bleu de Solaise are hardy and actually benefit from a good frost. These can be dug up through out the winter in to the spring.

Strawberries…

The strawberries are starting to flower and fruit again. I’m not sure how sweet these strawberries will be, but we may be able to use them to make jam.

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And the plants are also shooting out runners.

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These runners form new plants, but rather than allowing them to overrun the current strawberry bed, we place these runners in small pots of compost, whilst still attached to the parent plant. Once the runner plant has grown some new leaves this indicates the root system has established sufficiently for it to be detached it from it’s parent. At this stage the new plant is ready for transplanting to a new strawberry bed.

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These are some of the runners I have potted up.

And finally….

Back at home I’m slightly obsessed with saving seed..

Dill seeds

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The Cinnamon Basil is flowering and I plan to collect the seed

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Lavender seeds

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And the Magenta Mountain Orach.. it doesn’t taste too good but it certainly adds a splash of colour

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Posted in Allotment Journal

Allotment Journal: Weekly Update

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This picture pretty much sums up the past week or so! The weather pattern has certainly changed. Storm clouds have rolled in and have kept the plots well watered. 

There hasn’t been too much to do, it’s just a matter of waiting for the crops to mature so we can harvest them. 

I have started to save seeds. I have removed all the old Champion of England pea plants but retained the dried out pea pods. I shall use these seeds for next years crop. I store the seeds in paper bags in a dark, cool place. Make sure the seeds are completely dry before storing them.

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I have started to cut some of the lavender

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Here it is in full bloom from earlier in the season. We’ve enjoyed a blaze of colour for a few months but now is the time to cut the stems that are no longer in flower. I remove all the seed pods, they remain incredibly fragrant, especially Hidcote and Munstead. I store these in airtight Kilner jars,  in a cool dark place. The lavender can be used for cooking, putting in lavender bags or even pop a few in the bath for a lovely relaxing soak. 

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The grapes are doing rather well… they continue to swell

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We may have enough for a thimble full of wine! 

I have harvested the shiniest onions I have ever seen. These are Red Baron onions grown from seed. They’re not very large but they are perfectly formed! Really rather proud of them and they taste great.

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The runner beans continue to produce beans at quite a pace

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Far too many to eat so I wash them, slice them and place them straight in the freezer. I cook them from frozen and they taste incredible. 

And finally 

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The wasps seem to enjoy feeding from area where the sweet corn cobs have been removed.. Swift 1 is a super sweet variety and word appears to be out!

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A Speckled Wood butterfly

And the Peacock orchids are finally in flower. Beautiful!

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Posted in Allotment Journal

Allotment Journal: Weekly update

This week we caught the tail end of Tropical storm Bertha. Not only did she deliver a LOT of rain, she also brought exceptionally strong winds. These winds wreaked havoc, especially with the clearly structurally unsound, heavily laden legume wig-wams!

The borlotti’s keeled over…

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And one of the French bean wig-wams collapsed into a heap

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Thinking those beautiful twisted willow poles maybe more style than substance! They certainly snap fairly easily.

I’ve had to prop them all up… aesthetically, it’s not pleasing. Such a sad sight, the Borlotti’s have a bit of a lean…. I’m being kind when I say a BIT.

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And the French beans are just about hanging in there with the help of a few bamboo canes

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The other problem we’ve encountered is the emergence of many, many slugs and snails …. they love the rain. I made a lovely platter for the chickens from the ones I found in and around the borlotti beans…. although even the chickens turn their beaks up at the hideously large slimey Spanish slugs, they get hurled over the fence on to a country foot path…that’s the slugs not the chickens, naturally!

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On the plus side, the rain has sunk deep into the ground. The plants are flourishing and the ground has softened up tremendously, we can dig once more.

The slugs and snails brutally attacked the Red Russian kale!

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I also found them in with the parsnips and they started to nibble the tops of the parsnip root…. that’s a NO…so I removed a lot of the foliage that was either turning yellow or draping across the ground. This has allowed light and air in and it will hopefully discourage those slimey pests from visiting.

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I check the parsnips daily to remove any unwanted pests and whilst rummaging through the foliage I saw this incredible moth resting by a parsnip.

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It’s a Garden Tiger moth. It’s rare and a protected species. Numbers in the UK have declined dramatically over the past 30 years, down 89%. They are incredibly striking and reasonably large.

I stole the photo below from ukmoths.org.uk so I can show you what it looks like with its wings expanded. No two moths are exactly the same, all the patterns are all slightly different. I have to say seeing something so rare and beautiful certainly made my day. Nature never ceases to amaze me.

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The caterpillar is extraordinarily hairy… also known as a  ‘wooly bear’. I’m hoping to see many of these little fellas in years to come. (photo from wildlifeinsight.com).

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We harvested our first sweetcorn cob. This variety is a hybrid called Swift F1. I’m rather pleased with the outcome.

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Pollination looks good, we have plenty of kernels on this cob. It’s incredibly tender, so tender that it’s possible to eat it raw. BUT I love hot sweetcorn served with lashings of butter. I boil it for a minute and a half. The taste is sweet and rich. Smiles with contentment!

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On the orchard plot it was time to prune the plum tree.  It seems the fruit trees have been neglected for a number of years. Last year we failed to harvest a single plum, this year we had about a dozen and they were delicious . Yellow gages.. Yum. We have to bring this tree back to its full glory.

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Apart from a lack of fruit the tree appears healthy, there’s lots of green foliage and new growth.

We pruned out any branches that were

  • diseased or dead
  • those that were growing in towards the centre of the tree
  • any that crossed over
  • and finally we pruned the new growth by half, cutting at an outward facing bud

We then gave the tree a jolly good feed of organic seaweed fertiliser.

Post prune the tree is thinned out, allowing more light to get in and much better air circulation.  We have maintained the traditional goblet shape.. albeit slightly lopsided!

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The Wathham butternut squash has turned from green to a more traditional yellowish colour.

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It’s not as massive, only about 7 inches long, but that may be due to the quality of the soil, it’s not great. Squashes are heavy feeders and I’ve not really paid them much attention. We planted these squashes more for ground cover around the fruit trees than to produce crops.

The ‘Barry Leeks’ leeks are growing rather well and I’ve managed to dig in some of that hideous trench. Although it’s still looking rather unsightly.

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The courgette plants have slowed up and aren’t producing many courgettes. We harvested just 5 courgettes this week. I think they may be coming to end of their season sadly.

The strawberry plants have started to flower again! We may be fortunate enough to get a second crop but I doubt they will be that sweet. Jam!

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But we still have raspberries

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These are from the Malling Jewel AGM plant. The flavour is incredible. I plan to buy more plants next year so we will eventually get a decent crop of the most amazing tasting raspberries.

This pear has been severely damaged by scab.

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But the pears on the smaller Comice du Doyenne tree are looking great.

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And finally

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Posted in Allotment Journal

Allotment Journal: Weekly Update

It’s been another hot dry week, which has meant one thing, a lot of watering! Especially the beans.

The Borlotti beans are developing well, they are beginning to fill out.

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It’s really important to keep them well watered during this phase to help the beans swell up. Although slugs and snails are now proving to be rather troublesome. I’m having to remove them daily. Some pods have already sustained some damage.

The runner beans have been prolific and they taste great.

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We’ve been picking and picking and there are plenty more flowers, so more beans will be on the way, and for some time by the looks of things.

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I didn’t think that the runner bean plants would survive when I planted them, but they have. They’ve endured gale force winds, aphids and high temperatures. As I didn’t think they would survive I sowed some French bean seeds, Cobra and Violette, around the same wig-wams. We have just started to pick some French beans too. I will definitely consider planting French beans with runner beans again next year, obviously staggering the sowing dates. Runner beans followed by French beans a few weeks later.

The peas have come to the end of their season. We picked the last of the fresh peas, and the first of the pea pods that I shall use for saving seed.

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We harvested some of the Pink Fir Apple potatoes. Each plant produced a good number of potatoes. Some were small and a few had scab. But on the whole, it wasn’t a bad harvest.

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I checked the parsnips. They seem to have survived the aphid attack and the foliage is growing well

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and we can see the start of parsnip roots beginning to form and grow.. very exciting

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And finally, flowers, the poppies flowered this week. A beautiful purple flower, my favourite.

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And the velvety rich chocolate Black Magic sunflower is also in full bloom. Delightful!

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Posted in Allotment Journal

Poppy Progress!

Back in May I wrote a post, Poppies are easy to grow, they say! As I mentioned, we have failed to successfully grow poppies naturally. Just the one plant last year despite scattering many, many seeds!

Whilst poppies don’t like root disturbance, I was determined to have poppies this year. At the beginning of May, I sowed some of the seeds that I saved from last years poppy into modules. These seeds germinated well.

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We transplanted 15 plants to the allotment, across the various plots, in late June.

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There have been few obstacles along the way, the 9 plants on Plot 2 were eaten by snails and slugs…….

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but, the remaining 6 plants grew well.  With the help of organic Slug bait!

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And yesterday, we were finally rewarded with a beautiful purple poppy flower. So thrilled!

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Posted in Flowers

Allotment Journal: Weekly update

At the end of last week there was the most amazing storm. It had been a beautifully sunny day, it was around 8pm and I was outside on one of my balconies watering the seedling when suddenly the light levels started to drop. I looked out to sea and I was fortunate enough to witness a rare Tsunami cloud formation rolling in along the coast. After a period of eery stillness, the winds whipped up to gale force and then the heavens opened. We received the most almighty downpour.

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This much needed heavy rain certainly gave all the plants a boost. All three plots are flourishing. The rain soaked deep into the ground, we didn’t have to water for a few days despite temperatures soaring up towards 30 degrees.

With the ground softened by the rain, I decided to dig out the remaining weed mound on plot 2. We are desperate for more space to plant up the leeks seedlings.

It took a couple of days to work through the mound, removing  each couch weed root and every fragment of bindweed root, not to mention re-composting all the vegetation that still needs to rot down. Any excess soil was just simply added back onto the plot.

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Finally, we were mound free..

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and we created a new vegetable bed at the back of plot two.

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We planted three rows of Bleu De Solaise leeks, on the left,  and a row of the Bulgarian Giant leeks, my experimental leek of the year.

On plot one, the Tayberry plants had come to the end of their season. They looked horribly messy and it was time to remove the netting.

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Having not really thought this through properly, I didn’t bank on the Tayberries vigorous new growth actually growing through the netting. This made it extermely difficult to remove the netting. It was quite a lengthy process as I had to carefully cut the net directly surrounding each new stem as I didn’t want to damage any of the new growth. Tayberries are floricanes, meaning next years fruit is produced on this years new growth. Once free of the netting I pruned the old growth from the plant leaving just this years growth.

Note to self: create a different netting structure next year!

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Later in the season we will need to ‘train’ the new stems thus preventing this unruly plant from getting totally out of control! Good luck with that one!

On the orchard plot I managed to harvest some plums

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This is the first year we have enjoyed ripened fruit from our trees. As we inherited the plum tree we have no idea what the variety is. I was hoping it would be a greengage but it’s a type of yellow plum. Saying that, I’m not disappointed at all, the flavour is incredible, fresh and fragrant yet sweet. It may be Early Golden or Shiro. I will investigate.

The pears on the small pear tree are still doing well. I’m hoping that we will have some pears to try this year too. I know the variety of this tree is a Doyenne du Comice as there was still a label on the tree when we arrived at the plot.

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The poppy plants on the orchard plot are growing really well.

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The plants are now roughly a foot tall and the flower head is just beginning to unfurl… As you can see in the background I have ‘liberally’ scattered organic pet friendly slug bait pellets around the plants to protect them from snail and slug attack. You can’t be too careful!

The Blue Banana squash has one fruit and it’s growing at quite a pace. It should grow to about 45 cm long, so still a long way to go. We also have two Waltham Butternut squashes! You can see one in the background.

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I harvested the remaining red onions and shallots.

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And filled the space by planting some parsley; curly and flat leafed.

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The dill plants are flowering and this should produce some lovely seed that we can use for cooking.

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Back on plot two the sweet corn is now in pollination mode. This will last about 10 days and it’s a critical phase.

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The male tassels at the top of the plant have fanned out and the flowers have started to dangle down. These flowers are full of yellow pollen and it’s at this stage the pollen is released. As the wind blows through the tassels the pollen should be ‘carried’ on the wind current to the female silks below.

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There’s not been too much wind this week and you can see the pollen has dropped and collected on the plants leaf. Each strand of the ‘female’ silks needs a grain of pollen in order for each kernels to form properly on the cob.

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I have been manually pollinating some of the silks with this pollen. It looks rather odd but I’m hoping it will pay off.

We have encountered a few pollination obstacles this year, aphids and a lack of wind so only time will tell what the quality of our corn will be like this year.

But the good news is that cobs are beginning to form. Hopefully the lovely hot weather to continue, helping to ripen the cobs. The cobs should be ready to harvest towards the end of August into September. Better make some room in that freezer!

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We’ve also been harvesting many, many courgettes from our SEVEN plants. Each plant is producing 2 to 3 courgettes a week.

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The slugs are rather partial to the flowers! And it’s always the largest slimiest ones!

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We continue to harvest peas but they are beginning to come to the end of their season.

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I think I’m too late to sow more but I’ve discovered a new variety of pea on the Real Seed Catalogue website. It’s called Lord Leicester. Another very rare, tall variety and it produces peas over a much longer period. It starts flowering in March and is said to continue producing peas until the end of the season… I will definitely try this variety next year.

I’m currently saving seeds from the Champion of England plants. I will sow these seeds in situ next spring. You can never have too many pea plants!!!

The Borlotti beans are coming along nicely

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We plan to pick some fresh beans but also to allow others pods to dry out naturally on the plant. The dried beans will be stored and later used during the winter months in soups and stews.

And finally, I saw these caterpillars on an abandoned plot… eating Scarlett Pimpernel weeds would you believe!

They are Cinnabar Moth Caterpillars. The Cinnabar moth is the most beautiful black and red moth.

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I saw a Cinnabar moth briefly, fluttering around the allotment, it was impossible to photograph, so  yet again I have shamefully stolen an image, this time from southwestscotland-butterflies.org.uk website. Sorry and thank you people of South west scotland butterflies, I hope you don’t mind but I think this moth is a thing a beauty.

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Posted in Allotment Journal
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